Did Major League Baseball Blackball Sparky Anderson For His Solidarity With Labor?

Bill Dow, a baseball historian and metro Detroit freelance writer who concentrates on sports, resurrects an old question about former Tiger manager Sparky Anderson as the ball club searches for a new manager to replace Jim Leyland.

When Anderson announced on Oct. 2, 1995, that he wouldn't return as the Detroit skipper, the then-third-winningest manager in baseball history was only 61 years old. He was the only manager to win World Series in both leagues. He was a PR man's dream.

Dow asks: So why wasn’t Anderson ever hired again by a major league team? 

Simply put, it has been strongly speculated that Anderson was blackballed by the baseball establishment for committing what became his “sin” but one that he said was the proudest thing he ever did in baseball.

As a player strike continued into the 1995 spring training, the major league clubs hired replacement players and threatened to begin the regular season with castoffs that were hardly major league caliber.

Sparky would have none of it.

Anderson became the only big league manager to challenge the owners when he refused to manage replacement players in spring training.

He was then placed on an unpaid leave of absence by Tiger owner Mike Ilitch who reportedly was talked out of firing the popular skipper by team president John McHale who knew it would be a public relations fiasco especially since the team was struggling to obtain public financing for a new baseball stadium. The move would cost Anderson $150,000 in salary, and even though he returned when the season started without replacement players, he never received the money back.

Sparky shared his position in his 1998 memoir written with Dan Ewald, "They Call Me Sparky" (Sleeping Bear Press):

“Strange, but it was the proudest moment of my career. I couldn’t believe grown men who are supposed to have common sense could actually come up with the idea of using replacement players. They were actually going to bring in some guys who never played in eight to ten years and call it major league baseball! What about the history of the game? What about integrity? We were willing to sacrifice our history and everything we believed in all on account of money! Well not me! If the owners thought I betrayed them they missed the whole point. That wasn’t the case at all. The only thing I wouldn’t do was betray baseball. I wasn’t going to try to fool the fans who pay for the games.”

Renowned baseball writer Tom Boswell predicted that Sparky Anderson would be blackballed in his February 21, 1995 Washington Post column, penned during Anderson’s walk out from the franchise. Boswell wrote in part:

“. . . A future Hall of Famer has crossed baseball’s imaginary picket line: Detroit Tiger manager Sparky Anderson. However, to the owner’s amazed and infuriated embarrassment, Sparky went the wrong way! He didn’t come in. He went out."

In the comments section under Dow's post, Richard Bak, another local author and freelancer who writes frequently about baseball, takes issue with the premise.

Bak writes, in part:

I don’t believe Sparky was blackballed at all. He was already 61 years old and had a reputation as a diva, despite his carefully honed homespun persona. I don’t think there was a blacklist as much as a consensus opinion among owners that Anderson had bitten the hand that had fed him (and fed him very well) throughout his entire MLB career.

From their point of view, why hire some guy who has just demonstrated that he can turn on his employer? It’s hard to believe that if Anderson didn’t want to manage “scabs,” he couldn’t have quietly worked out a leave of absence or retirement or some kind of bullshit excuse not to manage (his kitchen needed painting!) behind closed doors. Instead he chose to publicly embarrass his boss. Not a very smart move, no matter what profession you’re in.

Read more:  Detroit Athletic Co.
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